OTTAWA - The Canadian government will ask the Federal Court to hear a challenge of an immigration board decision granting refugee status to a white South African who claimed he was persecuted because of his colour.

"The government felt that because this is a fairly unique claim, it's something we felt would be wise to put before a higher authority, in this case the Federal Court," said Alykhan Velshi, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

"Government lawyers have been reviewing this IRB ruling over the past several days."

The move came after worldwide publicity and growing criticism of the ruling and a request by the South African government to challenge the decision.

But the South African request didn't influence the government's decision to ask the Federal Court to hear the case, Velshi said in a telephone interview.

"That's not how we make decisions, based on what other governments are saying," he said. "But given the unprecedented nature of the case the government felt this is the wisest course."

The Immigration and Refugee Board recently gave refugee status to Brandon Huntley, who claimed he was the victim of repeated attacks in South Africa and that police were unable or unwilling to help him. He said he was the victim of persecution by black South Africans.

The board's decisions are normally kept secret because of privacy laws, but this one was detailed in published reports last week. The board has refused comment, but hasn't denied any of the published details.

Anesh Maistry, head of the political section at the South African High Commission, said the decision - which found Huntley was at risk because of his colour - was wrong and belies the reality of South Africa.

"This decision is incorrect, it is not factual, it does not represent the facts on the ground. It portrays South Africa in a negative light and it misrepresents the work that has been done in the last 15 years to build a non-racial society in the country."

Tory MP Deepak Obrai chimed in with a statement expressing outrage over the decision.

The Tanzania-born member for Calgary East is parliamentary secretary to the minister of Foreign Affairs, but said his comments were a "personal reflection."

"Having grown up in Africa and witnessed the devastating effects of apartheid, in this case against blacks and Indians, it is beyond my understanding how a Canadian institution makes a decision on a racial basis," his statement said.

He said the ruling shows "a serious lack of judgment."

Maistry said the board never asked for South Africa's views on Huntley's claims nor did it seek to confirm his allegations of repeated attacks.

"We've never been asked - the South African government or any of the South African structures, be it the police services or anything else - to verify issues like a crime committed against a person."

The decision has raised a storm of controversy in South Africa.

The South African Institute of Race Relations said there is no general pattern of attacks on whites, nor is there any evidence of racial bias in the police response to crime.

It found Huntley's claims "to be largely without foundation."

Bheki Cele, South Africa's national police commissioner, has denied that criminals target people by skin colour.

"Criminals in South Africa . . . they look at what you have, rather than looking at your face," Cele said at a Johannesburg meeting of police chiefs.

Newspapers have also taken up the case.

Michael Trapido, a columnist for the Johannesburg Mail and Guardian, called the ruling "moronic."

"Their decision is patently ridiculous and based upon misconception and a failure to do even the minimum research."